The long and winding career of Marcel Dalio

You probably have never heard of Marcel Dalio, but there’s a good chance you have seen the French actor. He played the croupier in “Casablanca.” When Captain Renault says, “I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here”, the Dalio character says, “Your winnings sir.”

Dalio’s wife, Madeleine Lebeau, also had a role in “Casablanca” as Yvonne, Rick’s girlfriend at the beginning of the film.

Dalio appeared uncredited for his bit part in Casablanca. However, he had major roles in two other films that make many lists of the greatest movies ever — “La Grande Illusion” and “La Règle du Jeu,” both directed by the great Jean Renoir. In La Grande Illusion, he played Rosenthal, the wealthy Jewish prisoner of war who escapes along with the proletarian Maréchal (played by the great Jean Gabin) and the aristocratic Captain de Boeldieu. In “La Règle du Jeu,” he played Marquis de la Chesnaye.

Dalio was, in fact, a French Jew. He was born Israel Moshe Blauschild. His path from France to Hollywood was the stuff of “Casablanca.” He and his wife fled Paris for Lisbon ahead of the Germans. After several months they finally received visas for Chile. The visas turned out to be forgeries and they were detained in Mexico, where their ship had docked. Eventually they obtained Canadian passports and made it to the U.S.

Meanwhile, the Nazis used posters of Dalio’s face as that of “a typical Jew.” The rest of his family perished in concentration camps.

Dalio arrived in Hollywood with $17 and no knowledge of English. However emigres from the French cinema industry, including Renoir, Rene Clair, and Charles Boyer, helped him out. Soon, Dalio was appearing in American movies. After his bit part in “Casablanca” came a more substantial role in a Humphrey Bogart movie, “To Have and Have Not” (as “Frenchy,” of course).

Dalio went on appear in at least 100 more movies, some American, some French, as well in a host of television shows in the two countries. His American film credits include “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” and “Sabrina” (again with Bogart).

Dalio’s last movie was released in 1980. He died in 1983 and was buried just outside of Paris.

The Nazis unwittingly made an enormous contribution to American movies by causing so much talent to flee Europe. The talent that mattered did not appear on camera. It consisted of writers, directors, cinematographers, set designers, composers, etc.

Marcel Dalio is just a footnote to this emigration, but an interesting one, I hope.

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